Friday, November 25, 2016

Going home for the holiday

The tracks outside Union Station.

Five years ago last August a 60-year-old man named John Leslie Carter died "after a lengthy illness," according to the obituary in his hometown newspaper, The Morning Sun of Pittsburg, Kansas. John's passions had been music, bowling and Joan, "the love of his life." He had attended schools and church in Pittsburg, worked at a large Pittsburg plant that made coal-mining equipment, and after his birth in Detroit, lived his whole life in Pittsburg, two hours south of Kansas City.

John did get to Kansas City at least once in his life, 59 years ago today, November 25, 1957. His name traveled even further that day because of the circumstances of his journey. The same three-paragraph summary of John's trip appeared in newspapers from coast to coast, and you can get a pretty good idea of it just from reading its headlines around the country.

From Amarillo, Texas, we learn that a 7-Year-Old Boy Is Self-Sufficient. 

Youngster Makes Valiant Start On Unannounced Trip, is how Santa Cruz, California, begins it.

In Hazelton, Pennsylvania, it's 7-Year-Old Travels Minus Ticket, Money. 

The Monroe, Louisiana, version reveals that Boy Travels Light For 128 Miles. 

The plot thickens in Garden City, Kansas, as Youngster’s Trip To Detroit Interrupted.

More details emerge in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with Knowing Nurse Ends Boy’s Trip.

Young Traveler Returned Home is the conclusion from Gastonia, North Carolina.

In Centralia, Washington, the evaluation is Traveling Tot Misses Goal.

But in Newport, Rhode Island, we're left with Broke Or Not, He Was Going To See His Parents.

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The Kansas City Times of November 26, 1957, filled in some gaps in our story-by-headline.

It was Monday of Thanksgiving week when John boarded the Kansas City Southern at 5:10 p.m. in Pittsburg and took a seat next to a woman he didn't know. He had no money, but wished to somehow get to Detroit, where he was born and where he might still have been, had not his folks sent him to live with his mother's parents in Pittsburg. His plan survived until the conductor came along to collect tickets. The conductor at first assumed John was traveling with his adult seat mate, but she said no, he didn't belong to her. John insisted he was alone.

The woman, a nurse, kept John close and when the train pulled into Union Station here, a phone call to Pittsburg confirmed the boy was missing. Soon John was on a southbound train to Pittsburg.

Why John and his parents were separated in the first place is, of course, the hole in the story of his big newsworthy adventure. None of our business, perhaps, but the mind wanders.

We're also left to imagine John's story being fondly remembered and retold over the next 53 years in Pittsburg – in his first-grade class at St. Mary's School, at the Church of the Nazarene, at the bowling alley, at the manufacturing plant, at his memorial service. And that he eventually did get to Detroit, or anywhere else.

We do have one Times quote from the 7-year-old John, himself, as he waited at Union Station for the train to take him back home.

"I was on a train once before, but I can't remember when," he said, holding his ears against the release of steam from a locomotive. "This is the first time I was ever on one by myself. That steam makes too much noise. I don't like it."

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